Thanks to National Lottery players, young people with learning disabilities can access support to prepare for their move from school to the next phase of education, training or employment.
The Connect project, run by the Orchardville Society, is funded through Big Lottery Fund’s Empowering Young People programme. It offer personalised training, work placements, and support and encourage independence, confidence and employability for young people with learning disabilities in the Greater Belfast area.
Beth McKinty, now 21, first got involved with the Orchardville Society back in 2014. Thanks to their fantastic work together, Beth has learnt new skills and boosted her confidence and self-esteem. She’s even succeeded in going on several work placements – giving her the valuable experience she needs to transition into adult life.
Beth’s mum, Sian, said: “Beth has two older sisters, so they’re her role models. My husband, Hugh, and I wanted to give Beth as much freedom in making her own choices about her future as we did with the other two. Although she has a learning disability Beth’s very sociable and very aware of what she wants to do and she’s also watching her two older sisters.
“That’s daunting because you know she needs to be protected, you know that she’ll not take the same route and you’ve got all of those emotions flying about – in a perfect world you’d like them all to follow the same pathway in their own way. We know that isn’t going to happen with Beth.”
A dedicated transition officer has worked with Beth and her family during the past two years. Sian said: “As parents you’re worried because you don’t know what the future holds. Beth will always need support, but we want her to have a real sense of her own achievements. Orchardville were able to give us advice and say, ‘these are your options’.
“The transition programme has been helping Beth with training courses and getting her into work placements, and it has also been stretching us as parents. It has helped us start planning for Beth to take public transport, maybe stay in the house for an hour on her own, things like that. The transition programme helps us look ahead and plan.
“What they have done to me as a mummy has been amazing because it’s opened my eyes as to what is out there for Beth.”
The Orchardville Society received £600,000 in 2016 to continue their brilliant work, and thanks to National Lottery players they’re able to continue helping young people like Beth make the move from school to adulthood.
Margaret Haddock, Chief Executive of the Orchardville Society, discussed what impact the funding has. She said: “This funding will change not only the lives of the young people but also the family network around them. We are excited to be able to work with young people to provide a service which will allow them to make informed choices on the direction for “life after school”. We cannot wait to work in partnership with the young people and assist them achieve their goals.”